Building climate resilience in the shadow of the Himalayas in Nepal
Suraj Bahadur Kunwar stands in front of a newly-constructed concrete building in the remote village of Narayanpur in Western Nepal. “Climate change has increased the risk of flooding. So we constructed this building for our security. Now we feel secure,” he says.
“Heavy rain triggered flooding and landslides causing nearly 400 deaths and displacing 1250 families. With the Himalayas - source of thousands of rivers and glacial lakes - dominating this mountain landscape, fears of catastrophic flooding and landslides are very real. However the Narayanpur shelter - built with the fund from the EU-funded Nepal Climate Change Support Programme (NCCSP) - is designed to withstand the increasingly severe flooding brought on by torrential monsoon rains.
The programme of 16.5 million euros - 8.6 million from the European Union and 7.9 million from the British Department for International Development (DFID) - was designed to help the poorest, most vulnerable and remote farming communities in the mid and far western region of Nepal, one of the world’s most mountainous and inaccessible regions. It can take a week just to reach some of the villages on foot. The programme supported these communities to design and implement their Local Adaptation Plans of Action (LAPAs), which are community-based approaches that take a "vulnerability first" approach to climate change adaptation. In practice, through the implementation of these LAPAs, a total of around 600,000 people have benefitted from clean water supplies, irrigation systems, flood shelters and solar energy systems.
A 500km, 15 hour drive away from Narayanpur lies the village of Shreepur. Jeet Bahadur Tharu
points to an impressive wall of giant wire cages filled with stones, known as gabions. “Before these gabions were built, the floods just destroyed everything,” he says. “They provide a double benefit - not only do they protect us from landslides and erosion, but we have created a dam using gabions which supplies irrigation water. Without this technology, we wouldn’t have been able to harvest rainwater into the dam.”
It took nine years to build a canal to power a hydro-electric generator in Tripurasundari, but in 2017 it took just a few minutes for a landslide to destroy it, leaving the villagers without electricity for more than a year. Once again the community was left in darkness. However, with the help of the NCCSP, a new 100m canal was constructed, together with gabions to protect it. “Light is supplied from 5pm to 10 pm, with additional hours in the morning for studying during major exam times,” says the report. “With the electricity, a small mill for grinding is in use in the village, forest depletion has been stopped (as wood was used for lighting) and a few locals have started saw mills.”
It was a similar story in Chungwang, a village with no electricity at all until NCCSP stepped in. “We were living in darkness,” says Sunita Pun, a mother and one of the 54 households affected. “Our children lacked sufficient time to study in the evening and women had to cook before sunset. We would finish our chores and go to bed early.”
“When the sun shone, we had to choose between working in the fields or doing household chores,” she says. “At night, using the latrine was difficult as there was no electricity. Now I can spend more time in the field during the day, and cook in the evening. My children can study when it’s dark. Older people and children can use the latrines safely at night. The village has woken up. People listen to the radio, and they use cell phones to call their families.”
Climate change has resulted in increased monsoon rainfall and decreased winter rainfall, leading to crop losses from both droughts and floods. A major plank of the NCCSP was to help local people manage climate risks and become more resilient. One of the aims of the programme was to develop a local ownership of the interventions and it significantly contributed to build confidence among people about ways to cope with any kind of disaster and reduce the risk of climate change. They are now able to solve the problem for themselves - that’s the most significant impact.”
In Shivapur, Durga Sapkota proudly shows visitors around the community information centre, where brightly-coloured posters about climate change adorn the walls, and groups of men and women sit and discuss ways to make their community more resilient. “After the community information centre was established we have learned how to reduce the risk of climate change,” says Durga. “We have gained a lot of knowledge.”
Food security is high on the agenda in these remote communities. Floods and landslides destroy farm land, and some crops are no longer viable. Eighty percent of the young people in Tribeni Nagarpalika - where much of the valuable agricultural land has been washed away - have left the village to search for work in India. But the NCCSP has shown that with the right interventions, people can earn a decent living from the land.
“Previously there was no water storage facility, and we were compelled to bring water from far away,” says Ganga Saud, a farmer in Dullu Municipality. “Now we have water for both irrigation and drinking. The irrigation system means I can grow vegetables such as cabbage and cauliflower. I earned Nepalese Rupees 192,000 (€1400) through the sale of vegetables.”